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Christmas

A child receives a present from Santa Claus at the Christmas Magic event on Dec. 6. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Once again the holiday and Christmas season is upon us. For Christians, this is a season of hope. If we’ve ever needed hope it is right now.

The political landscape around the world is explosive. Violence, hate and human exploitation seem to be everywhere. At home, although economic prosperity is growing, respect for human rights and the diversity of people is at an all-time low.

Our elected leadership, at every level starting with Washington, is scandalously lacking. Our human discourse is a disgrace. It is a sad day in America when people with differing viewpoints have to deteriorate to name-calling and ad hominem attacks because they have differing opinions. What happened to rigorous debate ending in agreeing to respectfully disagree and remain friends?

This holiday season we have been painfully reminded of the abuse of power and the abuse and misuse of human beings especially the human exploitation, abuse and harassment of women.

What are we teaching our children? What life lessons are they learning? What happened to leading by example? It is shameful that those elected to public office have remained painfully silent when it comes to the disgraceful and abusive behavior especially from those who possess the ultimate power.

Despite all of this, we still celebrate the season of hope — the hope that change and transformation are possible; the hope that in most human beings there is a reservoir of compassion and goodness. I am fortunate in the midst of all this chaos to witness every day the magic of Christmas-simple, ordinary wounded people reaching out and touching others with love and goodness.

For more than three decades I have lived among the most broken among us. I continue to stand in awe as I watch these young men change and transform their lives and others.

Over 30 years ago, a young lawyer named Charlie Russo founded an organization, Christmas Magic, to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas for his children. Never did he think all these years later that a simple organization would ultimately become a powerful not-for-profit outreach that touches thousands of young children in our bi-county shelter system each Christmas.

It has also become a wellspring for thousands of volunteers who share their love at this time of year. It is a concrete reminder for all of us of what the real reason for the season is. Russo’s powerful example is an inspiration to all those who are privileged to know him.

Every year the residents of Hope House with whom I live participate voluntarily in Christmas Magic. To witness firsthand these wounded young men reaching out to the poorest of the poor among our children is a powerful life lesson.

Seeing these struggling young people interacting with little children, holding their hands, watching the children open up their Christmas presents from Santa, seeing the tears in their eyes as these little ones say thank you is probably among the best Christmas presents for which one could hope.

So despite a nation that has lost its way and a government that seems narcissistic, this is still the season of hope. The real miracle of Christmas is things can get better if you believe! I do believe! This holiday season let hope become the anthem of your soul!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Three Village residents were treated to a local holiday favorite Dec. 10 as the Three Village Holiday Electric Parade traveled down the streets of East Setauket. The parade kicked off at 5 p.m. with a variety of vehicles and floats adorned with lights that added a festive feel to the chilly night. Presented by the Three Village Kiwanis Club, the event featured floats from students from the Three Village Central School District and the participation of Scout troops and various businesses and organizations from the area, including Shine Dance Studios and North Shore Jewish Center. Cheerleaders, pep squad members, athletes and Stony Brook University mascot Wolfie also participated. After the parade, families gathered at the Kiwanis Park next to Se-Port Deli for the chance to visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, who arrived in a train replica decorated with colorful lights.

Uniqua holds her two new teddy bears tightly. She received the gifts from members of Mount Sinai's Students Against Destructive Decisions club. Photo by Kevin Redding

Just one night at Mount Sinai High School helped to make the season bright for local families in need.

For Christmas, all 6-year-old Uniqua really wanted was an Elf on the Shelf toy, a gift her mom struggled to afford. But Moniqua McGee, who lives with her daughter at Concern for Independent Living in Medford, knew she had nothing to worry about. She had Mount Sinai high schoolers to rely on.

A family from Concern for Independent Living receive gifts from Mount Sinai children through Hauppuage-based nonprofit Christmas Magic. Photo by Kevin Redding

On Dec. 6, during the Students Against Destructive Decisions club’s Christmas Magic dinner in the high school’s cafeteria, a beaming Uniqua not only got her wish, but two new teddy bears and holiday-themed face paint, too. She even met Santa Claus and Rudolph.

“I’m grateful they’re doing this for the families and putting smiles on the kid’s faces,” said Moniqua McGee, who has been coming to the event the past five years. “It works every time.”

The McGees were just one of dozens of families from the Medford nonprofit enjoying the holiday spirit in the room. An 18-year partnership between the Hauppauge-based organization Christmas Magic and the SADD club, the Christmas soiree served as the ultimate payoff of a shopping spree by the students Dec. 1. Under the supervision of SADD club advisors John Wilson and John McHugh, they spent that day rushing around Smith Haven Mall and Walmart to buy gifts for more than 60 boys and girls from Concern for Independent Living, which provides housing and employment help for struggling families, based on wish lists they wrote to Santa. The school district also raised $8,000 for Christmas Magic.

Members of Mount Sinai’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club watch children open up presents. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I’m happy and proud to be part of a program and district that not only encourages, but fosters this type of activity,” McHugh said. “The students involved display the best we have to offer … we have grown our program every year and that makes me feel great.”

With all the gifts wrapped and labeled, every kid left the dinner with at least three presents given to them by Santa, played by rosy red cheeked wrestling icon Mick Foley, who also posed for pictures. Christmas tunes blared through the cafeteria’s speakers as families ate chicken, pasta and desserts, and SADD club members — some dressed up in costume — went around the room with little gift bags of extra toys for attendees. SADD club members also played games and watched “Elf” with the kids.

“It’s so nice to be able to see all the kids here and see them get the gifts we got for them,” said Allie Garrant, an 11th grader and SADD club member, who picked up a lacrosse stick and Rubik’s Cube for a 13-year-old boy. “Just seeing their faces — it’s a whole different thing. It’s like, ‘Wow, these are real people I’m helping’ and you get to see firsthand the difference you’re making.”

Renato Lugo, whose four children were ecstatic over their gifts, expressed his gratitude to those involved in the event.

Students dressed up to entertain children during a Christmas Magic dinner at Mount Sinai High School. Photo by Kevin Redding

“It’s a beautiful thing to have organizations like these that help out and take care of people in need,” said Lugo, who has been aided by Concern for Independent Living for six years. “The students bring joy and cheer and they make my kids very happy.”

His 12-year-old daughter, Elena, was ecstatic receiving a long-sleeve Unicorn pajama shirt from Santa.

“I think it’s really amazing I got the present I wanted,” Elena said. “And the food is amazing and everyone’s so happy. I love SADD. They’re really like another Santa.”

Kim Dellamura, who’s been at the nonprofit agency for six months, said the event allowed her 4-year-old daughter MacKenzie to have a Christmas.

“It feels good because I don’t know how much I would’ve been able to give her this year,” Dellamura said. “So this really helps out a lot. She loves it.”

For Lawrence Aurigemma, the event is a perfect reflection of what this time of year means.

“This season is all about peace and generosity,” said Aurigemma, a military veteran whose 14-year-old son received Pokemon cards. “These students are just fantastic. They go out of their way to help out the less fortunate people here. It’s a wonderful thing. They knew exactly what to get my son … he’s so happy.”

Smithtown resident and former WWE wrestler Mick Foley dishes out gifts to children. Photo by Kevin Redding

Also at the event was Christmas Magic founder Charlie Russo and representatives of Concern for Independent Living, including case managers Ella Cantave and Julio Villarman, who were excited to see their clients enjoying the holidays.

“It’s a very special day for them,” Cantave said. “It took a lot of effort to make it happen and to make it nice for them.”

As everybody in the room sang “Jingle Bells,” Santa arrived and joined in. Each kid’s name was called out to sit down with the big man in the red suit.

Foley, who has been a volunteer with Christmas Magic since 2000 and officially assumed the role of Santa for the organization in 2014, said he looks forward to the event all year round.

“It’s a great organization — they spread joy and happiness to so many of the less fortunate in the community, and it’s an honor to wear the red suit and represent Christmas Magic,” Foley said before turning his attention to the SADD club. “I make it a point to thank all of them because I think it’s wonderful that they get involved in volunteer work at a young age. They do a great job and it’s really easy for me to show up and get a lot of the credit from children, but the truth is, without them, absolutely none of this is possible.”

The community came together in Port Jefferson Village over the weekend to embody a famous quote from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”: “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”

Dec. 2 and 3 marked the 22nd annual Charles Dickens Festival in Port Jeff, an event that brings out locals and visitors to take part in a weekend full of events, activities, performances and parades. Attendees were treated to ice skating, cookie decorating, a display of decorated Christmas trees with various themes, street performances by actors portraying people from the Dickens era, horse-drawn carriage rides, toasted marshmallows, Christmas carols and much more.

Every year the organizers of the event select honorees and dedicate the festival in their name. This year, George and Karen Overin, two long-time Dickens Festival participants and volunteers, were recognized.

“Perhaps there are no two people that better represent the joy, the feeling of family, and, indeed, the magic of this cherished weekend that has captured the imagination of people from around the globe,” the dedication to the honorees read in part.

Mount Sinai Students Against Destructive Decisions club members organize gifts that will be donated to children at Concern for Independent Living in Medford through the Hauppauge-based nonprofit Holiday Magic. Photo by Kevin Redding

Mount Sinai High School students took on the roles of Santa and his elves to make sure local children in need have gifts to open this Christmas.

In a continued collaboration with Hauppauge-based nonprofit Christmas Magic, 43 members of the school’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club embarked on shopping sprees at Smith Haven Mall and Walmart Dec. 1 to bring holiday cheer to underprivileged children. They set out to find gifts for more than 60 boys and girls from Concern for Independent Living, a nonprofit agency in Medford that provides permanent housing for homeless families, based on wish lists they wrote to Santa.

With $4,500 supplied by Christmas Magic, SADD club members bought more than 100 gifts — each child receives about three — from wireless headphones to action figures and dolls, to sweatshirts and diapers.

Members of Mount Sinai’s Students Against Destructive Decisions club unpack gifts to be donated after going shopping. Photo by Kevin Redding

Back at the high school, the students turned the cafeteria into a makeshift Santa’s workshop. They organized the gifts, piled them into garbage bags and sent them off on a big truck to be wrapped and delivered back to the school Dec. 6, where the district hosts a dinner for the children and their families, where club members join Santa Claus himself in presenting the wrapped gifts.

“I think this teaches the students compassion,” said John Wilson,  a special education teacher and the SADD Club’s co-advisor who said the district is in its 18th year of involvement with the program. “When they see some of the lists — and there’s a jacket or something they take for granted — I think it humbles them and makes them appreciate what they have.”

In one letter, which included a drawing of a smiling snowman and a Christmas tree, a young boy asked Santa for a tech watch and a lightsaber. In another, a girl asked for a pair of boots and a unicorn onesie.

“I love getting the lists,” said Julie Pfeiffer, an 11th grader and SADD club member, who picked up wrestling action figures and Roblox toys for a 7-year-old boy. “We get these lists from them, in their own handwriting, and it’s so sweet. We’re able to give them what they want, directly. It warms my heart so much.”

High school senior Ruchi Thaker bought a sports kit and learning toys for a 1-year-old boy as well as a My Little Pony toy and a bracelet making gift set for a little girl. Junior Rebecca Muroff tracked down a specific brand of hoodie and phone case for a 15-year-old girl.

“You just feel good about doing this,” said Emma Wimmer, a senior who bought a Nike sweatshirt, a pair of sneakers and pants for two teenage boys.

Margaret Kopcienski, a junior and president of SADD Club, said this is her favorite event of the year and said prior to the Dec. 6 dinner that she looked forward to meeting the children at the high school.

“We’re able to give them what they want, directly. It warms my heart so much.”

— Margaret Kopcienski

“It’s really magical seeing how happy they are,” Kopcienski said. “It’s a great time and really cool to see the result of all our hard work and how much joy the presents bring to them.”

The school district will also be reimbursing Christmas Magic more than $7,500 raised during its Turkey Trot 5K and Fun Run Nov. 25, an annual fundraising event run by SADD co-advisor and history teacher John McHugh. Last year, upwards of 11,000 kids across Long Island were gifted through the nonprofit.

“It’s an amazing feat that the students and staff at Mount Sinai make this happen every year,” said Charlie Russo, who founded Christmas Magic in 1990 out of a lifelong passion to give back to those less fortunate. “It just speaks volumes as to where the district is and where their community service efforts are. I can’t praise them enough.”

Russo said Christmas Magic has been working alongside Concern for Independent Living, one of about 70 agencies involved, since the nonprofit was formed.

Concern for Independent Living was formed in 1972 and has been recognized as the largest nonprofit provider of supportive housing for individuals and families in need on Long Island. Ralph Fasano, the organization’s executive director, said Mount Sinai students have helped families and kids get through the holidays for years.

“All the families come from low-economic brackets and oftentimes there’s not enough money to buy kids gifts,” Fasano said. “When these kids get things they’ve wanted for years — gifts they never thought they’d ever have — it restores some hope for them.”

The Port Jefferson community lined Main Street in the village Nov. 25 to welcome a very special visitor. The annual Santa Parade saw the man himself riding his sleigh through the streets for hundreds of onlookers, along with floats from local Boy Scout troops, the Port Jefferson Ferry, the Chamber of Commerce, the Village Board, Port Jefferson Fire Department, local businesses and many more. Port Jefferson’s annual Dickens Festival begins Dec. 2.

Centereach Fire Department teamed up with Operation Christmas Child to collect shoeboxes filled with gifts to be donated to needy children. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

It wasn’t quite Santa’s sleigh, but it was large, red and carried presents, so an ambulance was good enough for the Selden Fire Department, which took over Santa’s duties last week and stuffed 100 shoeboxes with gifts for poor young children all over the world.

Volunteers help fill a Selden Fire Department
ambulance with shoeboxes for Operation Christmas
Child. Photo by Kyle Barr

“Most of these boxes are going to go to kids who never even get a gift,” Selden Fire Department Treasurer Vincent Ammirati said. “This is something that will put a smile on a face, and this is the fire department — everything we do here is for other people. All we do is try put a smile on people’s faces.”

The shoeboxes were collected as part of Operation Christmas Child, a function of the evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization Samaritan’s Purse. The organization takes the shoeboxes from drop-off points in local churches before sending them to distribution centers that will ship them to poor communities in Africa, South America, Asia and others. The shoeboxes are labeled by age and gender, and usually contain toys like inflatable soccer balls or stuffed animals, but mostly they contain hygiene products like soap and toothbrushes along with school supplies like books and pencils.

All seven companies within the Selden Fire Department helped contribute to the stack, with some companies acting as a group and other members of the fire department contributing indipendently.

Children in Uganda receive shoeboxes of gifts from
Operation Christmas Child last year. Photo from
Danielle McCarthy

Volunteer firefighter and Operation Christmas Child Long Island Coordinator Danielle McCarthy headed the fire department’s collection drive. She said she got the idea of filling an ambulance full of shoeboxes from watching the Los Angeles Police Department and how a funeral home had pulled in with a hearse full of shoe boxes.

McCarthy has been involved with Operation Christmas Child for more than a decade, first packing boxes before becoming a local packing leader, and then area coordinator. In 2012 McCarthy travelled to Uganda to help hand out shoeboxes.

“As we put shoe boxes into their hands and they opened up those boxes I saw their delight,” she said. “To look at them having physical needs met, to be able to see the joy that came to them from these simple things like school supplies and toys and that sort of thing, that impacted me. But what really impacted me even more, and what keeps me packing shoeboxes, were all the kids standing outside the place who didn’t get shoeboxes because there wasn’t enough to give to everybody.”

Shoeboxes for Operation Christmas
Child were collected with gifts to be
donated to needy children.
Photo by Kyle Barr

Every box also comes with a picture book called “The Greatest Gift,” put inside after each is packed. The book depicts a number of biblical stories told in that country’s native language. There was a $9 fee for every package, which pays for both the book and shipping costs. The fire department pulled together $900 to go toward this cost.

“Every one of these shoeboxes to us is not just a gift that we’re giving to a child, but around Christmas time Jesus is a gift we try to give, too,” said Victor Rossomano, an Operation Christmas Child Suffolk County-area coordinator. “It’s in their language and their culture. We try to keep it within their culture; we try not to send America to them, we want them to be who they are.”

Ammirati helped McCarthy drive the shoeboxes to the drop-off point at the Grace Gospel Church in Patchogue. He said he plans on using his officer status with the Suffolk County Volunteer Fireman’s Association to try and spread the idea out to all the different fire departments in the county.

“It’s a great way to show our community presence with the fire department and also for Operation Christmas Child,” McCarthy said. “It’s taken a few years to get this rolling, but when we challenged the fire department to fill the ambulance, as you can see, the guys stepped up.”

The 100 boxes kicked off national collection week, which ran from Nov. 13 to 20. In 2009, Suffolk County gathered 7,100 boxes, but the number has grown. The group is hoping to have 20,000 boxes packed this year

Classic car owners cruised into the parking lot at Brookhaven Town Hall last weekend to not only show off their collection of vintage hot rods, trucks and wacky automobiles, but their hearts, too.

At the town’s annual Charity Car and Motorcycle Show Nov. 12 — a partnership between the Brookhaven Youth Bureau and different classic car, truck and motorcycle clubs throughout Long Island — more than 300 vehicles of all shapes, makes and models were on display for residents in an effort to gather nonperishable food and unwrapped toy donations for families in need.

This year’s event raised 1,500 pounds of food, including canned soups, tuna and boxes of rice, which were transported by the town’s charity-based INTERFACE program to its Thanksgiving Food Drive, and will go directly to residents that need it most. By the end of the day, residents filled 25 big garbage bags with toys for children to open next month.

“This really helps allow people to have a very merry Christmas and a happy holiday,” said Sound Beach resident Dan Ryan, a member of the Long Island Chapter of the American Truck Historical Society, one of the event’s main groups that has helped collect donations since it first began about 12 years ago. “It’s just one day out of the year but it makes a big difference in people’s lives, especially kids. The crowds here are really caring people. They come out and give what they can.”

Maxine Kleedorfer, the event’s chairperson and a member of East End Olds Club, said of the day: “This is still so amazing to me. It’s Long Islanders giving to Long Islanders.”

Other organizations represented at the all-day free event were Long Island Moose Classic Car Club, the Long Island and New York City Oldsmobile Club and Long Island Street Rod Association, as well as independent car owners, who showcased everything from old Chevy Coupes to Lincoln Continentals to a 1981 Checker Taxi Cab.

Residents perusing the variety of wheels in the parking lot were treated to live music from local bands, free hot dogs and beverages, 50/50 raffle prizes and even a special visit from Santa Claus, who rolled up in an antique LaFrance Brockway Torpedo fire truck to meet with the kids and ask what they wanted for Christmas.

Adam Navarro, a vintage car collector from Centereach, said while he was happy to see so much generosity in the air that day, it didn’t surprise him all that much.

“One of the biggest things about car culture is that those involved are always giving back to the community,” Navarro said. “So you come out here, look at some great cars, sip hot chocolate, meet some friends and at the same time help out the community. You can’t get better than that.”

Joe Morgani from Mastic, who brought along his classic Corvette and several cans of soups and vegetables, called the event a win-win.

“The cars are amazing, we have the band and everything, and it all brings people together to help other people,” he said. “We need more charities like this. I love it.”

Sitting in front of a blue 1958 Chevy Bel Air was the car’s original owner, Lake Ronkonkoma’s Karl Krumsick. His wife Carol said he bought it when he got home from serving in the Korean War. The two went on their first date in the car and drove off in it after they got married.

“We come to this show every year because we love to donate to the needy,” Carol Krumsick said. “We brought a bunch of toys and canned goods. It’s wonderful here.”

Renée, Zachary and Glen Cote are the 11th family to receive a home from Joe Cognitore and Mark Baisch through their veteran program. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Cotes are home for the holidays.

On Dec. 14, the owners of the 11th home for returning veterans, Glen and Renée Cote, received the keys to their new home, just in time for 7-year-old Zachary Cote to enjoy his first Christmas in Miller Place.

The house would not have been made possible if it wasn’t for Rocky Point VFW Post 6429 Commander Joe Cognitore and developer and owner of Landmark Properties Mark Baisch.

The Cote family moved into their new home in Miller Place last week. Photo by Kevin Redding

The Cote family was chosen after Baisch heard Zachary was diagnosed with Grade 4 medulloblastoma, brain cancer, in June 2014, and endured 42 rounds of radiation and nine months of intense chemotherapy, until he was diagnosed with acute intermittent porphyria. His mother suffers from the same rare and painful metabolic disorder that requires expensive biweekly treatments, which she has undergone for 14 years at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital.

If that wasn’t enough, Zachary’s father, who was a U.S. Army combat medic from 1988 to 1992 and specialized in deployment training and immunization for a bulk of army medics in the Gulf War, suffered an on-the-job injury that disabled him.

The family had lived in a home in Sound Beach, until March, when the Cotes were told they were being evicted because the landlord had let the home fall into foreclosure.

The goal was to get the Cotes into the home on Helme Avenue before Christmas.

“To make this happen in the four months that we had is pretty monumental,” Baisch said before handing over the keys. “This house is complete. It isn’t like we have to come back and still do some stuff. The flooring is finished, everything’s done, it’s painted. This house is ready for them to move in. In fact, I intend for the Cotes to sleep here tonight.”

The family did sleep there that night and have been enjoying their new home. Especially Zachary, who was already making use of the small crawl space under the stairway in the basement. He said he’ll turn it into a play room for his new friends.

“It seems so surreal. Until the movers got there this morning, it was just like ‘they’re actually here and they’re putting our stuff in the truck.’ It’s such a blessing [and] I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
—Glen Cote

“It’s an incredible feeling; it’s overwhelming to know that this day is here upon us,” Glen Cote said during move-in day. “It seems so surreal. Until the movers got there this morning, it was just like ‘they’re actually here and they’re putting our stuff in the truck.’ It’s such a blessing [and] I couldn’t ask for anything better.”

The family is excited to celebrate its first holidays in the new home, but Zachary’s parents are even more thankful for the fact that their son will be able to remain in the school district that they said has taken such great care of him.

To be able to do that for the Cotes warms Baisch’s heart.

“What we’re able to do for these families is so good that it would be hard for me to think about not doing this,” he said. “Nobody feels happier than me right now. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

At the end of the celebration, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) just had one final thing to tell the family as it walked through its new front door: Welcome home.

Kevin Redding contributed reporting

A young girl picks out Christmas gifts at Target in Commack Dec. 14. Photo from Mallory Kerley

By Victoria Espinoza

For a few families struggling to make ends meet this Christmas, local organizations got together to ensure there would be presents under the tree.

United Way of Long Island, a nonprofit based in Deer Park, and Make it Count Foundation, a nonprofit based in West Islip, worked together to donate funds so that children and their families were able to search through Target in Commack and choose any gifts they wanted for Christmas this year. They were also given holiday treats as they shopped. Kids ran through the aisles of Target Dec. 14, browsing the Barbie dolls, Nerf guns, and other toys they could take home to make the holiday special.

“Helping children in need is priceless,” Jon Reese, president of the Make It Count Foundation said in an email. “I feel it is not only our responsibility, it is an honor. Especially this time of year, when we celebrate life and hope.”

Reese said Make It Count has worked with United Way of Long Island in the past on home renovations, health and community programs, and backpacks filled with school supplies.

A young boy picks out Christmas gifts at Target in Commack Dec. 14. Photo from Mallory Kerley

“We feel that when the Make It Count Foundation and the United Way of Long Island partner, we are able to leverage each other’s resources and make a greater impact,” he said.

According to Theresa Regnante, president and CEO of United Way of Long Island, this is the second year the two nonprofits have joined together to organize the event.

“We wanted these kids to be able to celebrate the holidays, and have the joy of opening gifts that they wanted,” she said in an email. “Jon Reese has been a fantastic partner in other areas of our mission, and coming together to help kids during the holiday season was a perfect fit. We have the connections to the partner agencies who work with families across Long Island, and they had the funds to donate to help them afford the gifts. It was an easy to decision to make to put this event together.”

Families had to be nominated to partake in the event, and Regnante said other local nonprofits helped in the selection process.

“We connected with Long Island Head Start, United Veterans Beacon House, and Family Service League, who are all partner agencies of ours, and asked them to nominate families who could use some extra holiday cheer to take part in the shopping spree, as well as families who are part of our VetsBuild and YouthBuild programs,” she said. “Target generously let us utilize their break room space and provided treats to the children before giving them a tour of the toy department. It was a fabulous effort all around.”

Regnante shared what makes the event special to her.

A young girl picks out Christmas gifts at Target in Commack Dec. 14. Photo from Mallory Kerley

“The best part of an event like this is seeing the smiles on the children’s faces as they pick up that toy they’ve been asking for for months, and knowing that they can take it home that night,” she said. “You have to remember, most of these children have only the basic necessities and rarely do they have the opportunity to get things that bring them true joy. Their families are working hard to give them the best life possible, and this event allows those parents and guardians to brighten the holiday season just a bit more. The holiday season is supposed to be filled with happiness, but it isn’t that way for those who are struggling.”

She said she watched a mother and her son go through the check-out line, and as they were walking out the door, he yelled out, “I feel like Christmas is here early!” as if he couldn’t believe he was actually allowed to leave the store with his new toys.

“Watching this little boy literally skip out the door warmed my heart,” she said.

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